My very dear friend and chapter mate, Lisa, loaned me a book the other day which I just finished reading. It's an older Susan Elizabeth Phillips book - Nobody's Baby But Mine. (Hey, Karen, I think I'd classify this as a secret baby book!). I started reading it, laughed at how stupid the premise was, but like a train wreck waiting to happen, I couldn't look away if my life depended on it.
The premise is this: 34 yr old geeky physics professor with a 180 IQ is at a crossroads in her life. Her one and only lover dropped her for a 24 yr old assistant. She knows she's no big prize, that she's stuffy and married to her career, but her biological clock is ticking. She wants a baby, but not just any baby. She wants a normal IQ baby who won't be a social outcast. None of her male friends are father options because they're all brainiacs as well. Enter a flighty next door groupie neighbor who wants to borrow coffee one day and comes across the blubbering professor at one of her low points. Groupie-girl needs to find someone "classy" for her NFL football player friends to give the star quarterback as a birthday present. If she can come through with a classy "girl" they've agreed to hook her up with the backup QB who she wants to bang. Groupie-girl is desperate, takes one look and figures nerdy professor who wants a baby might just do the trick. Somehow she convinces nerdy professor to go along with this crazy scheme and seduce the big dumb NFL QB. Nerdy professor goes for it, figuring he's just a big dumb jock and she'll get what she wants, he'll get laid, no harm, no foul. He won't ever know she ended up pg.
As I was reading - and yes, it was like a train wreck - I was laughing so hard at how unheroic both of the main characters in this book are. The nerdy professor is a liar and a cheat and she goes and seduces this guy with the sole intention of getting pregnant and not telling him. But he's no prize either - the big dumb NFL QB goes along with it even though he can tell there's something odd about this girl right from the start. (He's not so stupid after all, though he is a guy and as such does stupid guy stuff, like falling for this whole thing.) They end up having very unromantic, un-hot sex, she runs off and that's that. Whatever. Except then they collide again because the first time she didn't actually get pg, so she goes back for seconds. And our hero falls for it again! Totally both unheroic characters right from the get-go, and even still I found myself reading and couldn't stop. These two characters were both so completely screwed up, I couldn't wait to figure out how they messed things up even more.
I LOVE unheroic characters. I think they have the best character growth over the course of a story. I had one contest judge tell me my thief hero was unheroic at the beginning and therefore unlikeable. After reading her comments I scratched my jaw and thought, "Huh. That was the point. He IS unheroic in the beginning of the book. He's SUPPOSED to be a louse then." What's the point of writing the perfect hero at the beginning? He's got nowhere to go at that point. When I look at the keeper books on my shelves, more often than not they involve one (or sometimes two) characters who do something so totally UN-heroic, you think there's no way they can redeem themselves. The fun in reading becomes watching them transform into the most heroic character you've ever read.
What about you? How do you feel about unheroic heroes & heroines? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Kinda in the middle? And do you ever write unheroic characters?